The Surprising Reasons Why Atlanta Airport Is The Busiest In The World 2022-04-26 08:27:33

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Atlanta (CNN) – Atlanta is the “big city” for residents of the Deep South. But once you leave the area, it starts to feel smaller.

It is only the seventh largest metro area in the United States. Not even cracking the top 40 metro areas around the world.

You might think that the distinction of the busiest airports would belong to the most populous cities and international crossroads – Tokyo, Dubai or London, perhaps – or at least to a larger metro area in the United States.

But it turns out there are some very good reasons why it’s better not to be the biggest when it comes to the world’s busiest airport.

How Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport rose to prominence and held it for so long is a fascinating look at the intersection of long-term driving success and geographical good fortune.

CNN Travel I asked Laurie Garrow, a Georgia Tech professor of civil engineering with aviation experience, what factors helped Atlanta.

Born from a highway

His intent will come.

It worked out for Kevin Costner in 1998’s “Field of Dreams,” and long before that movie hit, the concept worked well for some Atlanta leaders with dreams of their own in the early 1900s.

“I actually think the number one factor has been local community support and the state’s commitment to attracting airlines since the 1920s,” Jarrow said recently in a phone interview.

She noted that the airport had its beginnings when he founded the Coca-Cola Company Asa Candler donated land on which the defunct Atlanta Speedway sat for the purpose of constructing an airport.

“So from the start, I think business leaders in the state recognized the importance that aviation would have to the economy.”

There was also William Hartsfield, an alderman and eventually mayor. Back in the 1920s, Garrow said, Hartsfield was a staunch supporter of airport investments, and he learned a lesson from how much the city and state benefited from the railroad.

long term commitment

Passengers wait in the boarding area of ​​one of the airport's new terminals on Monday, August 3, 1981, after air traffic controllers went on strike.

Passengers wait in the boarding area of ​​one of the airport’s new terminals on Monday, August 3, 1981, after air traffic controllers went on strike.

Eric Marabodi/CNN

That push in the 1920s began what Jarrow said were a series of major improvements that come about every 20 years:

• Forties: In World War II, the two main airport carriers, Eastern and Delta, Abandon their planes to the military and shifted their focus to training pilots and mechanics. “This continuous pilot training that was happening in [the airport] In terms of takeoff and landing is what originally drove Atlanta to position itself as the busiest airport in the United States.”

• Sixties: The airport opened a modern terminal for jet aircraft in 1961. Jarrow said it was the first building designed specifically for jet aircraft, and at the time, it was the largest passenger terminal in the country.

The eighties: Less than 20 years later, Garrow said, the passenger terminal was demolished and a new passenger terminal constructed “with the same foyer structure that we have today. When it was built in 1980, it was the largest in the world.” The mayor at the time, Maynard Jackson, was a staunch supporter of the effort. (The airport has gone through several name changes. The current name, Hartsfield-Jackson, Awarded in 2003 To honor these two former mayors and airport heroes.)

room for growth

The new runway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport opened in the center, front on April 28, 2006. Having room for expansion over the decades has been a key component of the airport's success.

The new runway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport opened in the center, front on April 28, 2006. Having room for expansion over the decades has been a key component of the airport’s success.

Alberto Riva/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Fortunately, the people with the right ideas were in the right place. It turns out that Atlanta was fertile soil for aviation. For one thing, the airport had room to expand.

It is set about 10 miles south of downtown Atlanta – close enough to be fully serviceable in the heart of the city but remote enough to grow as needed. The land around the airport is also one of Few relatively flat areas In an area characterized by mostly mountainous terrain.
Garrow compares this to the densely developed New York City, which is surrounded by water. Their airports simply have no room to grow. LaGuardia, for example, is partially built in a landfill already and should wrestling with coastal flooding. Hours indoors and at an altitude of more than 1,000 feet (305 meters), Hartsfield-Jackson has no such concerns.

And it’s not just space on Earth that matters. “Space can be thought of on Earth and in the air,” Garrow said.

Again using the New York area as an example, three major airports serve a densely populated area, and there are airspace restrictions.

“They are limited by the number of take-offs and landings they can do,” she said. They must coordinate take-off and landing so as not to interfere with other airports.

Atlanta has no such issues.

Southern force

A station was photographed in Hartsfield-Jackson in April 2019. The airport does not have to split traffic with another major station in the metro area.  This helps to increase their numbers.

A station was photographed in Hartsfield-Jackson in April 2019. The airport does not have to split traffic with another major station in the metro area. This helps to increase their numbers.

Marcus Minca / picture-alliance / dpa / AP

Another advantage of Hartsfield-Jackson: There is no domestic competition.

“As cities get bigger, they usually have more than one airport that serves them…so Atlanta is very unique in that. I would say it’s the ‘Powerhouse of the South’.”

This dominance is not the case in Chicago, which has O’Hare – and Midway. Or in Beijing, where Beijing Capital International Airport was often the second-busiest airport in the world, until recently, when the new Daxing International Airport borne a portion of the passenger load.

In Texas, it ranked second among the world’s busiest airports in 2021, Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW). It had 62,465,756 passengers in 2021. This was significantly less than the 75,704,760 passengers that traveled to Hartsfield-Jackson.

But this metro has a second airport with significant traffic – Dallas Love Field, which handled 13,315,498 passengers in 2021. Add these two airports in Texas together and you get 75,781,254 – surpassing Atlanta by a small relative number (76 ,494).

Garrow said Hartsfield-Jackson has a large “gathering area” with competing airports a considerable distance away. (The assembly area is the radius around the airport from which you can expect to attract commercial air service passengers.)

Bigger airports like Nashville and Charlotte are about 250 miles (400 kilometers) away — far from saving much in the way of competition.

“So people drive a long distance to Use Atlanta because there is really no other viable airport in the area.”

Atlanta is something of a beautiful spot. The trip takes about two hours for 80% of the US population, According to the airportIt’s not that crowded near other major metro areas.

delta effect

The fortunes and successes of Delta Air Lines and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport have been closely linked.

The fortunes and successes of Delta Air Lines and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport have been closely linked.

David Goldman/AFP

Having Delta Air Lines’ global headquarters in Atlanta is also an advantage.

“I see innovations by Delta as a domestic airline in the area over the years…Atlanta has pushed or maintained as the No. 1 airport,” Garrow said.

‘Delta in 1955 was the carrier Create axle spoke network. So they were inventive of this concept – using the spokes to bring all those passengers to a hub, and let them go “to other destinations.”

Growth also helped. Through mergers, Delta Air Lines can expand internationally.

“They have a lot of joint venture relationships with international carriers that help them build an international network and get passengers back to Atlanta as a gateway for other travel to the US, or vice versa. Take people from multiple locations in the US, filter them through Atlanta to go next level international”.

other factors

Passengers prepare to ride the MARTA subway at the airport in 2010. Direct mass transit from city centers to airports can also increase airport numbers.

Passengers prepare to ride the MARTA subway at the airport in 2010. Direct mass transit from city centers to airports can also increase airport numbers.

Sandy Hafker/Corbis/Getty Images

Garrow said that while the airport’s claim to fame is its hub traffic, it doesn’t hurt that Atlanta is a major convention, business and tourism attraction.

And when people arrive, they have the option of direct access to key areas of the city via the MARTA system. The line goes directly to the airport.

“Historically, airports that have provided seamless connections between the airport and … business centers have performed very well,” Garrow said.

what about the weather? Jarrow doesn’t think this helps much. May be helpful in winter with not much snow and ice but this is balanced by thunderstorms in summer.

Crystal ball

Domestic air taxis may be part of Hartsfield-Jackson's future, according to Georgia Tech's Laurie Garrow.

Domestic air taxis may be part of Hartsfield-Jackson’s future, according to Georgia Tech’s Laurie Garrow.

Marcus Minca / picture-alliance / dpa / AP

Jarrow said it is important for Georgia to maintain its No. 1 airport status because it helps attract business.

But can the airport continue its rule? After all, things are changing, and there are some real innovators in aviation, especially in the Middle East and Asia.

“In the short term, I think we will hold our place or be close to the top. And part of that is because in the Covid recovery, the markets are coming back differently. … the domestic US is very strong compared to other parts of the world.”

What about the future? Well, Jarrow thinks the airport could be well positioned for new innovations like local air taxi services.

She said that with advances in electric batteries and hydrogen technologies, we might see a future where people in the outer reaches of a metro area actually take a very small passenger plane to the airport and get there faster.

Hartsfield-Jackson design could help be a winner again. Its runways align from east to west, Garrow said, but metro Atlanta’s population centers run north to south.

This design means that air taxis can more easily approach without getting in the way of larger aircraft.

Top photo: The tower at Hartsfield-Jackson. (Marcus Minca / Image-Alliance / dpa / AFP)

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